Tuesday, 7 October 2008

Bedtime Stories and Language Development

An activity I have really enjoyed so far as an au pair is reading English storybooks to the children before they go to sleep. Last night, under the dim light that spread over the bottom bunk of Marta and Pietro's bed, the three kids gathered around me, a bundle of arms, legs and heads draped in various contortions, eagerly waiting to hear an English story. Their father, too, came in to listen, and sat himself down at the edge of the bed as I began to read Tim Turns Green, a tale about a black cat who eats three green mice which turn him a very funny colour.

Tim Turns Green is a story from my childhood, and it is a wonderful exercise in reading because a shorter, simpler version of the writing on the left hand page will always appear on the right hand page. This means that after the adult reads the writing on the left, the children can read the writing on the right. For example:

Left: "Little Tim Catchamouse ran up the roof of the old house, till he came to the skylight window."

Right: "Tim ran up the roof."

The book also has a number of very descriptive drawings which depict exactly what is being told in the story. This made it easy to physically show the children what each word meant without having to translate into Italian. In addition to pointing to the pictures, I also made a number of sound effects (sniffing, meowing, laughing, and the like) to accompany the verbs they did not understand.


The job of reading the right hand page was given to Marta, the eldest. To my surprise, she was able to read it quite well, give or take a few mistakes in pronunciation. And even when she made a mistake, she quite willingly let me correct her and was soon pronouncing the words with a very Canadian accent! (I feel so proud *sniff*). She even remembered how to pronounce "the" properly, though quite a few days had passed since I had taught her.

In addition, Pietro, who is usually quite reluctant to speak any English at all, gleefully repeated words such as "cat" and "green" whenever Marta did the same. I think I have learned that in Pietro's case, it does nothing to ask him to say an English word - it is much more effective to play to his copycat nature, and ask his siblings to say the word first so that he will be encouraged to imitate them. After all, children aged four never want to be left out!

Anna, too, was brazenly trying out her English pronunciation, though she still has a long way to go. However, I don't worry about it too much since even English speaking children of Anna's age cannot pronounce difficult sounds such as "th" or "r" anyway. My guess is that she will be the most fluent of them all by the end of the year, simply because she is too young to be afraid.

Tonight, I am planning to read them The Three Little Pigs, so we shall see how that goes!

Marta's New Words: "cat" "Magician" "burrito"
Pietro's New Words: "one two three" "cookie" "santa" "where" "cat"
Anna's New Words: "gimmi kiss" "cat" "moo" "give me five"

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

It seems to me you already have the au pair art down pat. Well done Heather. For this alone it was all worth it. Can't wait to visit you...... dad

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